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Scared of spiders? You'd best believe I'm scared of spiders; AFTER 17 LIFE-SAVING OPS, BITE SQUADDIE ADMITS.. Desert beastie nearly kills soldier Sammy EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: Robert Kellaway

A soldier bitten by a giant spider in Iraq yesterday told how he spent three months in intensive care and needed 17 operations to save his life.

Lance Corporal Sammy O'Gorman, from Inverness, said his biggest fear had been stepping on an improvised explosive device.

Instead, the 28-year-old Highlander was minutes from losing a leg after the camel spider bite and his wife Clare was told he might not survive the night.

The five-inch arachnid, which can run at 10mph, is not venomous but contains potentially lethal bacteria from its desert diet of decaying animal flesh.

Dad-of-two Sammy said: "When I went out to Iraq, the biggest threat was the IED.

"If you stepped on one of those, you felt you were going to lose a foot, a leg or your life. You just did not have time to worry about spiders.

"I didn't see the spider or feel the bite at the time and this was the problem. It left two holes in the top of my thigh.

"I got back in to our forward operating base after the patrol and noticed the top of my thigh was sore and inflamed.

"The medic couldn't do anything for me and it was two weeks before a doctor took a look at it.

"She cut the inflamed area open and drained fluid but none of us knew what the real problem was."

Sammy was on patrol with The Highlanders, the fourth battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, when the spider sank its mandibles into his left thigh.

His blood became infected with bacteria that invaded his muscles and nearly paralysed his heart.

Sammy's tour of western Basra ended two weeks later in January 2009 and he went on leave before returning to his base in Fallingbostel, Germany, to rejoin The Highlanders.

He said: "On arrival, I went straight to the medical centre as I felt terrible and was white as a sheet. At this stage, I had septicaemia and my thigh was full of the infection.

"The doctor took one look at me and sent me to hospital without even examining me.

"From there, I went into intensive care. They thought I had cancer. The infection was about a month old at this stage and was threatening to get a grip on my heart.

"They cut away infected muscle in my leg. I had 17 operations in total and I've got a divot in my left thigh as a result.

"At one point, they told my wife Clare I might not make it through the night."

Sammy, who has daughters aged four and six, added: "They managed to keep me going and sent my blood off for all kinds of tests.

"It was the tropical medicine lab that came up with the answer - I had a bacterial infection from the bite of a camel spider.

"The German doctors put it in my notes so British medics would know what to look out for in future.

"A British military surgeon looked through my notes and said I was very lucky to have kept my leg."

Sammy has transferred to the Black Watch because their HQ is nearer his Inverness home.

It has taken him three years to battle back to 70 per cent fitness.

He now gives training talks to help soldiers look out for spiders and scorpions in Afghanistan.

Sammy regained his fitness at the Headley Court rehabilitation centre in Surrey and is currently training with the tri-service Battle Back Paratriathlon club for disabled athletes.

He hopes to compete in the British national championships in May.

Danger in the dust and sand

Camel spiders - or solifugae to scientists - can grow to about six inches in length with a leg span of five inches.

They can run at 10mph - about a third as fast as Usain Bolt at top speed.

They have no venom but bite defensively. Due to the strong muscles, they can produce a large, ragged wound that is prone to infection.

CAPTION(S):

LUCKY Sammy, main, and, inset, a camel spider and Highlanders at work in Iraq
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Mar 18, 2012
Words:682
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